A PRISON officer turned author is the opening speaker at Saturday’s Woking Debate (25 May), which will question whether locking up offenders is the most effective way of reducing crime.

Alex South spent almost 10 years working as a prison officer and says the UK is failing both prisoners and staff. But since we know the problems it should be possible to fix them, she says.

Alex wrote Behind These Doors, in which she tried to humanise people by writing about her experiences as a prison officer.

“Does prison work? In theory, yes,” she says. “If someone is locked up, they can’t commit crime. Except, they can. And they do.”

Soaring rates of violence, self-harm, suicide, rioting and even murder in jails gave her an insight into life in our prisons. Recidivism rates show that almost half of prisoners reoffend within a year of release.

Alex worked in some of the country ’s most notorious men’s prisons, including Whitemoor, Belmarsh and Wormwood Scrubs, trained as a riot commander and hostage negotiator and was often deployed in that role to live incidents.

She resigned from the prison service in 2020 and won first place in the Beechmore Life Writing Competition before writing her book.

The debate – titled Prison: are there more effective ways of reducing crime? – is at Woking United Reformed Church in White Rose Lane. The doors open at 10.30am for refreshments and the debate is from 11am to 12.30pm.

Entry is free, with donations to help with running costs requested.